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Manatee hearing good enough to sense approaching motorboats
Date:4/11/2012

st was about to start, the team then trained the manatees to touch a yellow response paddle in return for a tasty fruit or vegetable snack when they heard a sound. They also trained the manatees to stay in place (in return for another snack) when they heard nothing. Once Hugh and Buffett had got the task in hand, the team tested their hearing by selecting a particular sound frequency (pitch) and gradually lowering the volume of the sound until the manatee could no longer hear it. Plotting these 'hearing thresholds' on a graph, the team could see that the manatees had good hearing between 8 and 32kHz and could even hear sounds as low as 0.25kHz so long as they were quite loud. However, they were even more amazed when Buffett appeared to be able to hear ultrasonic frequencies as high as 90.5kHz. 'Buffett did the task but refused to continue after the first round at that frequency, so we think it was aversive or annoying', Gaspard recalls.

Intrigued by the manatees' apparently sensitive hearing, the team then tested how well the mammals performed when the sounds were accompanied by background noise. Playing test tones ranging from 4 to 32kHz against background noise centered on the same pitch, the team recorded the difference between the volume of the tone and background noise when the manatee could no longer distinguish the tone. Plotting the critical ratio the level at which the background noise swamped the manatee's hearing against pitch for each animal, the team saw that the manatees struggled to hear lower and higher pitched sounds above background noise. However, their hearing was much sharper at 8kHz the frequency at which manatees communicate where they could still distinguish tones that were only 18.3dB louder than the background.

So, it appears that manatees should be able to hear approaching motorboats above background noise but it's much more difficult to know whether manatees can always focus on these sounds in nature, Gaspard say
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Contact: Kathryn Knight
kathryn@biologists.com
44-787-634-4333
The Company of Biologists
Source:Eurekalert

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